Common Book Project

Previous Common Books

The Common Book Project at Virginia Tech was established in 1998 as a means of enriching the first-year experience and creating a sense of community for undergraduate students. Each academic year since the first full-scale distribution in 2000, all incoming students have been given a book to engage them through the lens of shared reading and to provoke conversation among students and their professors.


Einstein's Dreams


The first Common Book at Virginia Tech was Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman. The book was initially used in a two-year pilot program which started in1998. Full scale implementation began in 2000 - 2001. The use of Einstein's Dreams as the Common Book continued until 2004. It is a series of 30 short fables representing dreams that Einstein might have had about places where time behaves differently. Time is circular, time flows backward and in yet another rain drops hang in the air in frozen time. This all takes place in 1905 during which Einstein wrote his Theory of Relativity.

Life of Pi


Life of Pi by Yann Martel was used in 2004 - 2005. Life of Pi has become a modern classic, combining grand storytelling with a profound exploration of ageless themes: faith and truth, fact and fiction , man versus nature, and innocence and experience.







The 2005 - 2007 selection was Branded: The Buying and Selling of Teenagers by Alissa Quart. If you have read any portion of Branded, you probably have an opinion regarding what you read. You may agree with the author's views, or you may think she's making a big deal out of nothing. Maybe you think teenagers have actually gained power because many companies have become dependent on their dollars. Regardless of your view, know that it has merit.




Mountains Beyond Mountains


Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man who Would Cure the World, by Tracy Kidder was used from 2007 - 2009. It is an inspirational account of Dr. Paul Farmer’s life as he travels around the globe from Harvard to Haiti, Cuba, Peru and Russia serving victims of poverty and infectious disease. Part biography, part journalistic saga, the book is a call to action, and a striking example of compassionate ambition that stands to inspire service and individual achievement throughout the freshman class at Virginia Tech. It is a story of persistence and determination, and a fascinating firsthand account of the global culture in which we live. Said one student member of the selection committee, the book is “an opportunity to become more aware of the world. Most college freshmen are aware that conditions in the third world are deplorable.


Ecological Intelligence


Ecological Intelligence: How Knowing the HIdden Impacts of What We Buy Can Change Everything by Daniel Goleman was the selection for 2009 - 2010. In this book Goleman challenges the hype of sustainability with a call to informed action. The book's focus on logical decision making for consumers can prompt our community toward more critical thinking and action through our roles in product design, manufacturing, promotion, consumption, and disposal. In March 2009, Time Magazine's cover story identified ecological intelligence as one of the "10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now":

What if we could seamlessly calculate the full lifetime effect of our actions on the earth and on our bodies? Not just carbon footprints but social and biological footprints as well? What if we could think ecologically? That's what psychologist Daniel Goleman describes in his forthcoming book.

Please join us in building our Ecological Intelligence and inventing the future!


Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life

The 2010 - 2011 selection was Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver, "the tremendously popular, best selling narrative that tells the story of how the author;s family was changed by one year of deliberately eating food produced in the place where they live." Kingsolver is the author of seven works of fiction as well as books of poetry, essays and creative non-fiction. She lives with her family on a farm in southwest Virginia. 

From the book cover …
“Hang on for the ride:  With characteristic poetry and pluck, Barbara Kingsolver and her family sweep readers along on their journey away from the industrial-food pipeline to a rural life in which they vow to buy only food raised in their own neighborhood, grow it themselves, or learn to live without it.  Their good-humored search yields surprising discoveries about turkey sex life and overly zealous zucchini plants, en route to a food culture that’s better for the neighborhood and also better on the table.  Part memoir, part journalistic investigation, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle:  A Year of Food Life makes a passionate case for putting the kitchen back at the center of family life and diversified farms at the center of the American diet. “


This I Believe II

this i belive


This I Believe II a collection of 75 short essays of personal philosophies by remarkable men and women - including both known and unknown was the university's Common Book from 2011 - 2013. The book is a product of a national media project that engaged people in writing, sharing, and discussing the fundamental standards and philosophies that guide their daily lives. The seventy-five essays represent a snapshot of personal values of individuals from a wide array of backgrounds. The book is more concerned with the individual rather than the aggregate. The book resonated strongly with members of the student body as well as faculty.


Little Princes


Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal, by Conor Grennan was used from 2013 - 2015. The book is an account of the author's trip to an orphanage in a war-torn Nepal and his efforts to reunite the children with their parents. As Grennan shared on his blog at, his story is about how “somebody with no relevant skills whatsoever, no deep passion for volunteering, no profound desire to make an impact on anyone’s life but his own, found himself sacrificing his comfortable way of life to try to improve the lives of these young children on the other side of the world.”

This Common Book serves as a tool to prompt discussion across disciplines among students and faculty, both in and out of the classroom.






Click here to read an article about the Common Book Project in the Virginia Tech Magazine.